Ashin Uttara, a British monk arrested and disrobed in June, lodged an appeal at Rangoon High Court on Monday alongside four fellow clerics.
Uttara and his colleagues have been charged with both “defaming religion” and “insubordination” of the state monastic council.
The charges were laid mid-year, as the monastic council reclaimed the Mahasantisuka Monestary with the help of riot police in a midnight raid. The complex had been the focus of a draw out ownership dispute, between the council and a Malaysia-based monk with links to the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
The state monastic council, known officially as the National Sangha Mahanayaka Committee, pressed the charge of “insubordination”, which the quintet will defend in court. The charge of defaming Buddhism, however, was brought against the monks by the Rangoon Religious Affairs Department. The monks believe that the latter charge is out of order, and lodged an appeal at Rangoon High Court on Monday to see it stricken.
“The Rangoon Division Religious Affairs officials abused the judicial system by disrobing us and sending us to Insein Prison,” Uttara said outside the colonial-era courthouse on Monday.
“At the hearing today we argued that detaining us in prison was outside legal parameters, because pressing charges against us had not been recommended by the National Sangha Mahanayaka Committee.”
“The fact that they continued to press charges for insubordination was completely unethical.”
Outside the high court on Monday, Uttara told reporters that the Rangoon Division Religious Affairs Department might be exerting undue pressure on the court.
“We have a question as to who is behind this attempt to imprison us. The prosecutor in the case is U Sein Maw, Rangoon Division Religious Affairs Director, but he would not say under whose instruction he was acting,” Uttara continued.
“Nonetheless, we believe the Rangoon Division High Court is not under the influence of the National Sangha Mahanayaka Committee and we regard it as an independent judicial body.”
The high court is expected to announce within the next month whether the Rangoon Division Religious Department’s deformation charge will be upheld.